Joan O'Connor Makes Mediterranean Pasta Salad

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Forks up, Phoenix! Chow Bella and Roosevelt Row present the third annual Pie Social Saturday, November 3rd, from 2 to 6 p.m. on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. We've got an all-star line up of bakers making pies for you to taste, and from now til Pie Social, we'll introduce them to you, one by one. We challenged each to make us a dish -- other than pie.

Today: Joan O'Connor, who runs Honey Moon Sweets Bakery with her husband, Tim, makes Mediterranean pasta salad.

See Also: - Wait 'Til You See the Final Celebrity Baker Lineup for Pie Social 2012! - How Do I Make Pie Crust?

Tim and Joan O'Connor share many things: a business, three kids, and a love of cooking. They met in the registration line on the first day of culinary school and have been working alongside each other ever since, starting in New York and eventually working their way to Arizona.

In 1996 the two founded Honey Moon Sweets Bakery and Dessert Bar in Tempe and for almost 17 years now, they've been supplying more than 100 restaurants all over the Valley with sweet eats from their kitchen. A model example of married-couple- turned-dynamic-business-duo, the O'Connors split their roles evenly, both in the bakery and at home.

Most often you'll find Joan in the kitchen, managing the sizable baking staff, training fresh out of school culinary students, and applying the intricate details to their phenomenal wedding cakes. Tim, on the other hand, is "the face" of the business, as Joan puts it. He's the one making the sales, bring in the clients, handling the deliveries, and representing Honeymoon at some of the biggest baking events in Phoenix (ahem, Pie Social 2012).

Today we got a rare chance to hang out with Joan.

It's 10 on a Tuesday morning when we arrive, and while many business are just opening their doors for the day, many of the staff at Honeymoon Sweets Bakery have been working there since 2 (yes, a.m.). Needless to say, Honeymoon Sweets is a well-buttered baking machine, and October through December is one of the busiest seasons, what with weddings, hotel events, and the holidays.

Tim is out doing deliveries and Joan greets us in the main entrance where a dessert bar is stocked with excess treats from the kitchen; a room to the right, sectioned off by a glass wall, displays some of the most elaborate weddings you've ever seen. It's their room for cake tastings and along the walls you'll find bridal magazine covers, and articles featuring their prize-winning desserts.

Joan leads us back into their labyrinth of a kitchen where the baking staff is cutting out pumpkin shaped cookies, layering sheets of baklava, frosting cakes, and more. It's basically a sweet tooth's dream back here. Joan walks over to a table where she's set out the ingredients for Mediterranean pasta salad.

She needs to make a generous portion to feed all the coaches at her youngest son's swim invitational. Her youngest son is a senior in high school so this will be the last year preparing and donating all the food. As busy as they both are, Tim and Joan O'Connor manage to be the kind of parents that attend their kids' swim meets, contribute to school functions, and make home cooked meals.

But it's not without challenges, Joan notes. She says they had to work as a team in both their personal and professional lives while also trying hard not to let the two crossover. "Tim's a great dad, a great business partner, and a great husband, she says. "He was like Mr. Mom driving the kids with him on deliveries."

But despite the occasional involvement between their kids and Honey Moon Sweets, Tim and Joan never wanted it to become a family business. "This was our passion and we didn't want to force it on them. I wanted separation from my kids and Honey Moon."

And with that, Tim and Joan agreed to keep their business in the kitchen as much as possible. "You need sanctuary from work. Even my husband will say, 'Let's not talk about work right now."

As she's giving us the run down of work life vs. home life, Joan is draining a large pot of farfalle pasta. It's the kind you can get at Trader's Joes for 99 cents a bag, and Joan loves it. She loves Trader Joe's in general -- we can see by the packaging on many of the items on her table.

As she begins mixing in her pasta salad essentials -- tomatoes, leeks, onions, cheese -- we ask her how she manages to bake all day and then come home to cook for her family.

"Cooking savory is totally different to me than baking. I don't really have any bakeware at home." Add to that, she and Tim split up the kitchen chores at home and Joan is a big fan of Tim's cooking.

When she's not busy at the bakery or carrying out her parenting duties, Joan is attending class, working her way to a pastry certificate and ultimately, a degree in nutrition. She has big plans for incorporating this into their business -- someday.

After she's mixed in all her ingredients and dressings, Joan takes tastebud inventory and begins rattling off other items that would really make the dish kick: artichoke hearts, different cheese, etc. She knows that the pasta salad situation will be slightly different after a night in the fridge, and she'll go back and tweak it some more tomorrow.

In a moment of perfect timing, Tim arrives. He helps his wife by wrapping up the large bowl of pasta and storing it in the fridge while she washes up for a photo shoot. They walk out to their front entrance to get their picture taken in front of the Honey Moon Sweets sign, which Tim's brother designed. The name of the bakery was originally going to be Three Angels Bakery, in reference to their three children, but Honey Moon Sweets was thrown out by their then 6 year old daughter, and the name stuck.

It's hard to say which O'Connor will be at the 2012 Pie Social; but we'll look forward to seeing either Tim or Joan (or both!).

Want to read about the other competitors? Brady Breese Makes Pumpkin Bread Joan O'Connor Makes Mediterranean Pasta Salad Monti Carlo Makes Banana Bread Muffins Mamma Toledo Makes Egg Sammies with Horseradish Cheese Slade Grove Makes Gluten-Free Amaretti Cookies Jeff Kraus Makes the "First Time Crepe" -- Nutella, Elderflower, Spiced Walnuts and More David Duarte Makes Peanut Butter Crunch Bars Winnona Herr Makes Butterscotch Bananas Foster Pudding

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